Album : London Calling by The Clash
Review : Rolling Stone, 3 April 1980
Author : Tom Carson

By now, our expectations of the Clash might seem to have become inflated beyond any possibility of fulfillment. It’s not simply that they’re the greatest rock & roll band in the world — indeed, after years of watching too many superstars compromise, blow chances and sell out, being the greatest is just about synonymous with being the music’s last hope. While the group itself resists such labels, they do tell you exactly how high the stakes are, and how urgent the need. The Clash got their start on the crest of what looked like a revolution, only to see the punk movement either smash up on its own violent momentum or be absorbed into the same corporate-rock machinery it had meant to destroy. Now, almost against their will, they’re the only ones left.

Give ‘Em Enough Rope, the band’s last recording, railed against the notion that being rock & roll heroes meant martyrdom. Yet the album also presented itself so flamboyantly as a last stand that it created a near-insoluble problem: after you’ve already brought the apocalypse crashing down on your head, how can you possibly go on? On the Clash’s new LP, London Calling, there’s a composition called “Death or Glory” that seems to disavow the struggle completely. Over a harsh and stormy guitar riff, lead singer Joe Strummer offers a grim litany of failure. Then his cohort, Mick Jones, steps forward to drive what appears to be the final nail into the coffin. “Death or glory,” he bitterly announces, “become just another story.”

But “Death or Glory” — in many ways, the pivotal song on London Calling — reverses itself midway. After Jones’ last, anguished cry drops off into silence, the music seems to scatter from the echo of his words. Strummer reenters, quiet and undramatic, talking almost to himself at first and not much caring if anyone else is listening. “We’re gonna march a long way,” he whispers. “Gonna fight — a long time.” The guitars, distant as bugles on some faraway plain, begin to rally. The drums collect into a beat, and Strummer slowly picks up strength and authority as he sings:

We’ve gotta travel — over mountains
We’ve gotta travel — over seas
We’re gonna fight — you, brother
We’re gonna fight — till you lose
We’re gonna raise —

The band races back to the firing line, and when the singers go surging into the final chorus of “Death or glory…just another story,” you know what they’re really saying: like hell it is!

Merry and tough, passionate and large-spirited, London Calling celebrates the romance of rock & roll rebellion in grand, epic terms. It doesn’t merely reaffirm the Clash’s own commitment to rock-as-revolution. Instead, the record ranges across the whole of rock & roll’s past for its sound, and digs deeply into rock legend, history, politics and myth for its images and themes. Everything has been brought together into a single, vast, stirring story — one that, as the Clash tell it, seems not only theirs but ours. For all its first-take scrappiness and guerrilla production, this two-LP set — which, at the group’s insistence, sells for not much more than the price of one — is music that means to endure. It’s so rich and far-reaching that it leaves you not just exhilarated but exalted and triumphantly alive.

From the start, however, you know how tough a fight it’s going to be. “London Calling” opens the album on an ominous note. When Strummer comes in on the downbeat, he sounds weary, used up, desperate: “The Ice Age is coming/The sun is zooming in/Meltdown expected/The wheat is growing thin.’

The rest of the record never turns its back on that vision of dread. Rather, it pulls you through the horror and out the other side. The Clash’s brand of heroism may be supremely romantic, even naive, but their utter refusal to sentimentalize their own myth — and their determination to live up to an actual code of honor in the real world, without ever minimizing the odds — makes such romanticism seem not only brave but absolutely necessary. London Calling sounds like a series of insistent messages sent to the scattered armies of the night, proffering warnings and comfort, good cheer and exhortations to keep moving. If we begin amid the desolation of the title track, we end, four sides later, with Mick Jones spitting out heroic defiance in “I’m Not Down” and finding a majestic metaphor at the pit of his depression that lifts him — and us — right off the ground. “Like skyscrapers rising up,” Jones screams. “Floor by floor — I’m not giving up.” Then Joe Strummer invites the audience, with a wink and a grin, to “smash up your seats and rock to this brand new beat” in the merry-go-round invocation of “Revolution Rock.”

Against all the brutality, injustice and large and small betrayals delineated in song after song here — the assembly-line Fascists in “Clampdown,” the advertising executives of “Koka Kola,” the drug dealer who turns out to be the singer’s one friend in the jittery, hypnotic “Hateful” — the Clash can only offer their sense of historic purpose and the faith, innocence, humor and camaraderie embodied in the band itself. This shines through everywhere, balancing out the terrors that the LP faces again and again. It can take forms as simple as letting bassist Paul Simonon sing his own “The Guns of Brixton,” or as relatively subtle as the way Strummer modestly moves in to support Jones’ fragile lead vocal on the forlorn “Lost in the Supermarket.” It can be as intimate and hilarious as the moment when Joe Strummer deflates any hint of portentousness in the sexual-equality polemics of “Lover’s Rock” by squawking “I’m so nervous!” to close the tune. In “Four Horsemen,” which sounds like the movie soundtrack to a rock & roll version of The Seven Samurai, the Clash’s martial pride turns openly exultant. The guitars and drums start at a thundering gallop, and when Strummer sings, “Four horsemen …,” the other members of the group charge into line to shout joyously: “…and it’s gonna be us!”

London Calling is spacious and extravagant. It’s as packed with characters and incidents as a great novel, and the band’s new stylistic expansions — brass, organ, occasional piano, blues grind, pop airiness and the reggae-dub influence that percolates subversively through nearly every number — add density and richness to the sound. The riotous rockabilly-meets-the-Ventures quality of “Brand New Cadillac” (“Jesus Christ!” Strummer yells to his ex-girlfriend, having so much fun he almost forgets to be angry, “Whereja get that Cadillac?”) slips without pause into the strung-out shuffle of “Jimmy Jazz,” a Nelson Algren-like street scene that limps along as slowly as its hero, just one step ahead of the cops. If “Rudie Can’t Fail” (the “She’s Leaving Home” of our generation) celebrates an initiation into bohemian lowlife with affection and panache, “The Card Cheat” picks up on what might be the same character twenty years later, shot down in a last grab for “more time away from the darkest door.” An awesome orchestral backing track gives this lower-depths anecdote a somber weight far beyond its scope. At the end of “. — “from the Hundred Year War to the Crimea” — that turns ephemeral pathos into permanent tragedy.

Other tracks tackle history head-on, and claim it as the Clash’s own. “Wrong ‘Em Boyo” updates the story of Stagger Lee in bumptious reggae terms, forging links between rock & roll legend and the group’s own politicized roots-rock rebel. “The Right Profile,” which is about Montgomery Clift, accomplishes a different kind of transformation. Over braying and sarcastic horns, Joe Strummer gags, mugs, mocks and snickers his way through a comic-horrible account of the actor’s collapse on booze and pills, only to close with a grudging admiration that becomes unexpectedly and astonishingly moving. It’s as if the singer is saying, no matter how ugly and pathetic Clift’s life was, he was still — in spite of everything — one of us.

“Spanish Bombs” is probably London Calling‘s best and most ambitious song. A soaring, chiming intro pulls you in, and before you can get your bearings, Strummer’s already halfway into his tale. Lost and lonely in his “disco casino,” he’s unable to tell whether the gunfire he hears is out on the streets or inside his head. Bits of Spanish doggerel, fragments of combat scenes, jangling flamenco guitars and the lilting vocals of a children’s tune mesh in a swirling kaleidoscope of courage and disillusionment, old wars and new corruption. The evocation of the Spanish Civil War is sumptuously romantic: “With trenches full of poets, the ragged army, fixin’ bayonets to fight the other line.” Strummer sings, as Jones throws in some lovely, softly stinging notes behind him. Here as elsewhere, the heroic past isn’t simply resurrected for nostalgia’s sake. Instead, the Clash state that the lessons of the past must be earned before we can apply them to the present.

London Calling certainly lives up to that challenge. With its grainy cover photo, its immediate, on-the-run sound, and songs that bristle with names and phrases from today’s headlines, it’s as topical as a broadside. But the album also claims to be no more than the latest battlefield in a war of rock & roll, culture and politics that’ll undoubtedly go on forever. “Revolution Rock,” the LP’s formal coda, celebrates the joys of this struggle as an eternal carnival. A spiraling organ weaves circles around Joe Strummer’s voice, while the horn section totters, sways and recovers like a drunken mariachi band. “This must be the way out,” Strummer calls over his shoulder, so full of glee at his own good luck that he can hardly believe it.” El Clash Combo,” he drawls like a proud father, coasting now, sure he’s made it home. “Weddings, parties, anything… And bongo jazz a specialty.”

But it’s Mick Jones who has the last word. “Train in Vain” arrives like an orphan in the wake of “Revolution Rock.” It’s not even listed on the label, and it sounds faint, almost overheard. Longing, tenderness and regret mingle in Jones’ voice as he tries to get across to his girl that losing her meant losing everything, yet he’s going to manage somehow. Though his sorrow is complete, his pride is that he can sing about it. A wistful, simple number about love and loss and perseverance, “Tram in Vain” seems like an odd ending to the anthemic tumult of London Calling. But it’s absolutely appropriate, because if this record has told us anything, it’s that a love affair and a revolution — small battles as well as large ones — are not that different. They’re all part of the same long, bloody march.

mp3 : The Clash – London Calling
mp3 : The Clash – Death or Glory
mp3 : The Clash – Spanish Bombs
mp3 : The Clash – Train In Vain

JC adds :  And here was me thinking that the NME was the sole outlet for overly-long and overly-descriptive album reviews back in the day.  There is no doubt that Tom Carson really liked London Calling, but with the benefit of hindsight over the past 40 years (certainly since its UK release), you can look back and argue that what he homed in on for particular attention was either inconsequential or unmerited.

Death or Glory is an important song, but is it worthy of taking up so much of the review?  Spanish Bombs is far from the album’s best or most ambitious song. And there’s more then a few remarks on various songs that feel straight out of Psued’s Corner. Having said all that, his view that Train In Vain seems an odd ending to the album is one that I’ve long shared, but as we’ve since learned from the story behind the album, this was really just the most  practical way of getting a new song out there to fans than any considered attempt to find an ending that was to provide an alternative to some of the anthemic stuff – indeed, there’s a body of thought that, outside of the title track, Train In Vain, has become the most anthemic song on the album.

I really did enjoy reading this particular review, for nothing else that it has a different tone and feel to those which came later when the album was remixed/re-released/re-packaged for certain anniversaries.  It also felt like the perfect way to close out the blog for 2019.



Album : Bandwagonesque by Teenage Fanclub
Review : Q, December 1991
Author : Paul Davies

Creation boss Alan McGee‘s latest rapscallion ruse to lighten the pockets of the record-buying public is a bunch of hirsute Glaswegians with a reputation for storming live shows and a penchant for genteel melodies and feedback-strafed electric guitars.

The self-styled Teenage Fannies have mockingly sidestepped the inevitable accusations of plundering rock’s dog-eared back pages with the nod’s as good as a wink LP title, and whilst there is little doubt that TFC have quaffed long and heartily from the fulsome musical goblets of Lennon and McCartney, Neil Young, Roger McGuinn and sundry American guitar delinquents, they are close to arriving at a sound that is recognisably all their own.

Introduced by an awesome barrage of feedback and the deadpan couplet “She wears denim wherever she goes, says she’s gonna get some records by the Status Quo”, the opening song, The Concept, is a thrilling induction into TFC’s melodious grunge guitar free-for-all. Operating in a parallel universe to the blips, bleeps and chemically assisted nirvana of the still raving indie dance scene, TFC have remodelled the whiplash guitar of Jesus And Mary Chain, grafted on their own softly shimmering vocal harmonies and replaced a black-hearted cynicism with a life-affirming brio and some sorely needed humour.

Cocking a snook at those who dissect slivers of plastic in search of coded entreaties to teenage devil worship, Satan is a murderous 80-second wind-up of orchestrated chaos and guitar savagery, with enough garbled vocals to keep the moral majority on overtime until Christmas. Cold compresses are applied to fevered brows on songs like December, Guiding Star and Sidewinder, as TFC slip into an altogether mellower groove with Norman Blake‘s understated lightweight vocals wafting along on clouds of multi-tracked harmonies and eardrum-fondling melodies.

Metal Baby drags a turbo-charged take on glam rock kicking and screaming into the 1990s, Alcoholiday is a loping singalong shuffle and What You Do To Me descends upon a classically Beatlesque melody with the untrammelled gusto of a runaway train on a collision course with an ammunition dump. The obligatory instrumental Is This Music? rounds things off with a celebratory flourish – Motown drumbeats, Rolf Harris-style wibble wobble bass lines and canoodling cross-cutting lead guitars soaring off on the back of a head-spinningly timeless melodic hook.

The sound of pop eating itself it may very well be, but with an aftertaste as good as this, it would be churlish to quibble about the choice of ingredients.

mp3 : Teenage Fanclub – The Concept
mp3 : Teenage Fanclub – I Don’t Know
mp3 : Teenage Fanclub – Guiding Star

JC adds :  A slightly shorter review than most in this series, it reflects the fact that Teenage Fanclub were something of an unknown quantity when Bandwagoneque hit the shops  – I distinctly remember that Tower Records in Glasgow offered a return with no qualms or questions if you bought the CD and didn’t like what you were hearing.  It’s a very positive and accurate review, although it is interesting to note that while the band had three main vocalists, Norman Blake was the only one singled out for mention; with hindsight (again!!) the failure to highlight Gerry Love is a serious oversight, especially given that he was the composer of the three songs mentioned in the lead-in to the praise give to Norman.




Album : Nixon by Lambchop
Review : NME, 1 March 2000
Author : Gavin Martin

On this, their fifth and greatest album, Kurt Wagner‘s ever-expanding 17-piece country soul outfit aren’t fucking around. Absorbing and magnifying the territory explored on its immediate predecessors, ‘What Another Man Spills’ and ‘Thriller‘, ‘Nixon’ is by any criteria an astonishing work.

Awash with delirious dream-bound strings, sanctifying gospel choirs, beautiful brass flourishes, pedal steels, Rhodes organ and, of course, open-end wrenches, it’s been called an alt-country ‘Pet Sounds’, Wagner (a Nashville-based floor-layer by day, genius by night) steering his inspired collective into areas of boundless musical wonder while keeping a sure and tender grasp on the emotional strings that tie these songs together.

Given the sheer sonorous delight of the Lambchop sound, the ‘Pet Sounds’ comparison is understandable if ultimately misleading. Once the magical opener ‘The Old Gold Shoe‘ – strewn with images of loss and abundance – takes flight you are borne aloft and thereafter free to explore a cosmic American ideal that would do Brian Wilson or Gram Parsons, or anyone proud. But as a singer and songwriter, Wagner operates at a remove from both his contemporaries and predecessors, his gentle imprecations, salty asides and off-kilter musings delivered in a raw falsetto that often sounds like a ravaged, confessional and mischievous ghost.

What Wagner has been working towards in a series of records that began with the tentative ‘I Hope You’re Sitting Down’ in 1994, is a music that illuminates the odd victories and tragedies of commonplace experience. Though it’s gilded with gentle rhapsodies, lush embellishments and thrilling expositions, ‘Nixon’ achieves its aims without ever resorting to overkill. Even in ‘Up With People’ – a joyous ode to friendship, procreation and dreams – the ‘Chop delight in caressing odd contrasts and eking out awkward emotional crevices.

Wagner’s mastery of the twisted love lyric comes to some sort of peak on ‘The Distance From Her To There’, summoning up a clumsy seduction with the line, “It’s not a theatre kiss/More like a railway piss”. So what, you may ask, has this all got to do with the man who was possibly the most mendacious US president of the last century? Ostensibly not much, the album was recorded before the cover image and the title were decided upon. Even so, the lyrics come complete with a Nixon reading list, the implication is that as someone who came of age in Tricky Dick’s era, Wagner can’t help but work in the dark shadow left by his legacy.

Mapping out a musical Utopia where Glen Campbell‘s golden era meets primetime Philadelphia soul and the dark gossamer funk of the late Curtis Mayfield is a constant presence, Wagner’s method even on the glowering looming despair of the magnificent ‘The Petrified Florist’ is a life-affirming riposte to the fear, division and paranoia Nixon fostered.

Fate and history can serve judgment on Richard Milhouse’s legacy – right now ‘Nixon’ is a swooning wonder, covered in glory. 9/10

mp3 : Lambchop – The Old Gold Shoe
mp3 : Lambchop – Up With People
mp3 : Lambchop – The Petrified Florist

JC adds :  Lambchop had passed me by until the release of Nixon.  Gavin Martin wasn’t the only one who sang its praises and I bought it, partly on the back of all the positive words, and partly as the man who owned the indie record store in Glasgow told me it was a great listen.  And it is….to the extent that everything that came before (as I went out and purchased the back catalogue) wasn’t quite as good, and everything that has come since hasn’t quite matched Nixon’s consistent brilliance.




Album : Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters by The Twilight Sad
Review : Pitchfork, 12 April 2007
Author : Mark Richardson

The first time you hear the Twilight Sad, a four-piece band from just outside Glasgow, they already sound familiar. It’s like they’ve been around a while, even though their debut EP only came out last September. You might think of Arab Strap‘s Aidan Moffat when hearing singer James Graham because he’s got a feel for concrete imagery and does nothing to hide his thick Scottish accent. Shoegaze comes to mind because guitarist Andy MacFarlane favors billowy curtains of white noise that dominate the sound field. And, as Pitchfork writer Marc Hogan has already pointed out, the Twilight Sad sometimes bring to mind U2, with their shared fondness for huge choruses that occasionally verge on histrionic.

All that said, the Twilight Sad are pushing these familiar elements in some unexpected and exciting directions. Graham may sound a bit like Moffett but he doesn’t sing about getting wrecked in the pub while trying to forget. His focus is primarily the concerns of adolescence, and he even narrows it down to a specific age. In the first line of the key track “That Summer, at Home I Had Become the Invisible Boy”, Graham sings “…14, and you know…” and you want to stop him right there. (Fourteen. Yes, we know how awful it can be.) But what follows is a portrait of a miserable kid that’s both touching and cathartic. Graham sounds angry, with sarcastic barbs about a “loving mother” and a “lovely home,” but “That Summer…” is anything but a tantrum. He’s got about four different levels to his voice in the song, from a calm articulation to a throat-shredding wail, but he’s never so clouded by rage that he forgets the details.

And the details are what make the track, and the album, so compelling. The song titles suggest a writer trying to find the profound in the mundane, and in that way they remind me a bit of the Clientele, even though the tone couldn’t be more different. There’s lots of weather, elements like earth and fire. There are train rides and long walks to nowhere that offer plenty of time to think. “Last Year’s Rain Didn’t Fall Quite So Hard” reads one, and the structure, a canon of Graham’s multi-tracked voice swirling around a single piano chord that sounds like the opening of the Velvet Underground‘s “I’m Waiting for My Man”, reflects the sadness streaked with hope. In “Walking for Two Hours”, Graham sings about being “so far from home” as bass drum, crash cymbal, and guitar strums merge into a tightly coiled implosion that drives the loneliness home.

The shifts in volume, though not exactly surprising, are crucial. Peter Katis and the band produced, and the sonic arc they construct tracks the lyrics beautifully. There’s a “big moment” on most songs where the music gets ridiculously loud and the guitar distortion crowds almost everything out. There is, of course, no trick in this sort of surge; a couple clicks on a floor pedal is all it takes. But the Twilight Sad know how to use dynamic range to advance the plot.

With songs so direct and the band’s hearts on their sleeves, the music’s debt to shoegaze only goes so far. Instead of tying the overdriven fuzz to a blissed-out sense of surrender to noise, the Twilight Sad uses the guitar as another kind of yell. The instrumental title track closing the record touches on My Bloody Valentine‘s “glide” guitar drone, but the almost martial drumming, with the snare seemingly vibrated by the guitar amp, keeps the track intimate and grounded. And when the band gets ethereal, it’s in a loose, folky way, as with the braid of ringing guitar sounding during the coda of “Talking With Fireworks/ Here, It Never Snowed.” Regular use of accordion, also played by MacFarlane, imparts an appropriately street-level earthiness to the sound.

As exhilarating as Fourteen Autumns is at its most anthemic, the vividness of the lyrical themes ultimately carries the record over. If one were to consider only the widescreen sound while scanning the titles, you might think the Twilight Sad were overwrought and sappy, another example of a band overly concerned with childhood, too young to know how good they really had it. But that’s not the way these songs come across at all. The Twilight Sad approach the darker side of growing up with consideration and dignity, and manage to maintain a proper perspective. “As my bones grew, they did hurt/ They hurt really bad,” an angst-filled songwriter from another generation once sang; the Twilight Sad do a tremendous job of remembering that ache.

mp3 : The Twilight Sad – That Summer, At Home I Had Become The Invisible Boy
mp3 : The Twilight Sad – Last Year’s Rain Didn’t Fall Quite So Hard
mp3 : The Twilight Sad – Talking With Fireworks/Here, It Never Snowed

JC adds :  It’s Saturday, and by tradition, the blog looks at something Scottish.  I know I am consistently shoving The Twilight Sad down your collective throats, but I’ll never apologise for that.  I was simply thrilled to find an American review which was so positive and understanding (apart from the U2 comparisons which i Just don’t get) that I was tempted to then go through all the succesive albums and pluck out reviews from over the pond.  But I haven’t….not yet, anyway!

There will be another superb Scottish album review from yesteryears in this spot next Saturday, but there will be six others before then.



Album : Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not by Arctic Monkeys
Review : NME, 12 January 2006
Author : Tim Jonze

It’s hardly surprising that the first words to tumble out of Alex Turner’s mouth on this record are “Anticipation has a habit to set you up/For disappointment”. I mean, can you imagine how it feels to be in Arctic Monkeys right now? Great, obviously, seeing as they’ve filled the gutter-rock gap left behind by the imploding Libertines, gatecrashed the proper pop charts with their debut single and been declared Our Generation’s Most Important Band™. But you’ve kinda got to feel for them. They’ve only released one proper single and the world awaits excitedly for the greatest album since God plugged in his Fender and started jamming with Joe Strummer. What’s more, these boys have got an instant handicap. Loads of us have already heard half these tracks from the internet demos which helped build their fanbase. The tidier production here fails to add any more life to those snarling versions (although any more life and they’d have escaped from the case and gone joyriding around Shire Green)

But that’s enough doom-mongering. After a while the hype and expectation is going to fade away and, when it does, all you can really judge Arctic Monkeys on is their haircuts. Sorry, I meant their music. And even if you’ve been fortunate enough to live with these tracks over the last year or so, they still sound more vital, more likely to make you form your own band than anything else out there.

Essentially this is a stripped-down, punk rock record with every touchstone of Great British Music covered: The Britishness of The Kinks, the melodic nous of The Beatles, the sneer of Sex Pistols, the wit of The Smiths, the groove of The Stone Roses, the anthems of Oasis, the clatter of The Libertines

Of course, the Monkeys actually spent their teens listening to hip-hop. But where that really shows is in the lyrics and the frenetic pace at which Alex hurls them out of his gob. He’s a master of observation. Unlike, say, Morrissey or Jarvis, he doesn’t use his eye-spying skills to strike a blow for the freaks and misfits of this world. And that’s exactly why they work so well. They’re songs for everyone – from the shy romantic whose hopeless with the opposite sex, to the guy who’d still take you home, even though he “can’t see through your fake tan” (‘Still Take You Home’).

What Turner does have in common with Mozza and Jarvis is that he’s a funny little fucker. And his humour is so easy to identify with, that mere observation serves him more than adequately. Forget the flowery fantasies conjured up by Dickensian Doherty – these are tales of the scum-ridden streets as they are in 2006, not 1906.

So you get the tongue-tied tart in ‘Dancing Shoes’, the bored band-watcher in ‘Fake Tales Of San Francisco’ and the guy whose girl’s got the hump in ‘Mardy Bum’ – all sung with a voice so authentic it could land the lead role in the Hovis ads. This record’s heart lies in Yorkshire, and it’s usually down the local Ritzy disco, getting the cold shoulder off the bird it fancies and ending up in a scrap by the taxi rank outside. It couldn’t be any more Saturday night unless it woke up, bleary-eyed, next to a 16-stone munter with herpes.

The knock-out punch is saved for the finale, though. And when it comes, it smacks you three times. Just to make sure, like. ‘When The Sun Goes Down’ is the sound of the streets long after the Ritzy has kicked out for the night, ‘From The Ritz To The Rubble’ is a three-minute blast that dares to take on that most grotesque of creatures (nightclub bouncers, not Kerry Katona). The clincher, though, is ‘A Certain Romance’. As perfect a pop song as you could ever hope to hear, it rivals even The Streets in its portrayal of small-town England, a place where “there’s only music so that there’s new ringtones”. Alex’s message is compact yet delivered with dazzling poetic flair: “All of that’s what the point is not/The point’s that there ain’t no romance around here”.

By the time it finishes, you don’t feel sorry for Arctic Monkeys any more. They might have been swamped in more hype than Shayne Ward ballroom-dancing across the set of I’m A Celebrity… but all of that’s what the point is not. The point’s that there ain’t no disappointment around here.

mp3 : Arctic Monkeys – The View From The Afternoon
mp3 : Arctic Monkeys – Still Take You Home
mp3 : Arctic Monkeys – When The Sun Goes Down
mp3 : Arctic Monkeys – A Certain Romance

JC adds :  It’s an astoundingly brilliant and confident debut, and an incredibly mature record from a bunch of lads who weren’t yet out of their teens.   The scariest thing for me is that the album is now 14 years old…..and I still think of the band as being new kids on the block.


Album : Punch The Clock by Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Review : Rolling Stone, 1 September 1983
Author : Christopher Connelly

Well, nobody’s gonna call this album a masterpiece. On Punch the Clock, Costello retreats from the no-guts, no-glory stance that inspired Imperial Bedroom and chooses instead to tinker with the basic machinery. Toward that end, producers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley have added two female backup singers and a peppy horn section to the still-solid Attractions sound. But most of Punch the Clock is standard Elvis fare: terrific tunes, take-it-or-leave-it singing and jaw-breaking wordplay that baffles as much as it enlightens. It’s still a spirited combination, but only in those moments when Costello transcends his glibness does this record become something really special.

With its extra aural punch, the album sounds like a winner right off. “Let Them All Talk” is a mile-a-minute raveup that supports Costello’s scratchy crooning without snuffing it. “Listening to the sad song that the radio plays/Have we come this fa-fa-fa to find a soul cliche,” he worries, but with that brass pumping away, who cares? Langer and Winstanley add some fine touches: the track finishes with a nifty falsetto, filigree (Elvis?) and some high-octave tinkling from keyboardist Steve Nieve.

But before long, Costello fans will be on territory that looks a little too familiar. “Didn’t they teach you anything except how to be cruel/In that charm school,” asks Elvis in “Charm School,” and no matter how lusciously the melody line floats, it’s hard not to think that you’ve been here before. The old themes are back: fighting, beauty and the greed of nations. Costello’s aggressive, suspicious sensibility is a given by now, but it’s too often couched in opaque, uninteresting scenarios (the otherwise appealing “King of Thieves”) or tossed out in facile phrasemaking. In “T.K.O. (Boxing Day),” he sings: “They put the numb into number they put the cut into cutie/They put the slum into slumber and the boot into beauty.” Clever? You bet, but naggingly so, like a smartass kid tugging on your shirttail.

Costello can do better — and he does. The mild paranoia of “The Invisible Man” is at least a little gleeful, and it’s worth it just to hear Elvis the Anglo pronounce “Harry Houdini.” “The World and His Wife” shows his smarm-minded eye at work: “The little girl you dangled on your knee without mishap/Stirs something in your memory/And something in your lap.” And in “The Element within Her,” Elvis even utilizes a Mersey-style la-la-la chorus: “He was a playboy/Could charm the birds right out of the trees/Now he says, ‘What do I do with these?’”

Costello can be hard to figure — unlike most singer/songwriters, he writes compositions that don’t often correlate to his own state of mind. But the war in the Falklands — practically prophesied in his earlier work — has had a clear effect on him, and the two songs it inspired are poignant, rantless and straight to the heart. The plangent “Shipbuilding,” a surprise hit for Robert Wyatt in England, carefully delineates a town where war is about to cure the unemployment problem. “Within weeks they’ll be reopening the shipyards/And notifying the next of kin/Once again,” Elvis sings with unusual care, high in his register. A stirring trumpet solo by the legendary Chet Baker beautifully enhances the track’s wistful lament. “It’s all we’re skilled in/We will be shipbuilding.” It’s a beautifully simple, almost terse, rumination, clear as water.

Perhaps more powerful than “Shipbuilding” is “Pills and Soap,” a song that Elvis originally released in England under the moniker “The Impostor.” Backed by the endlessly inventive Nieve and a click track with all the finger-snapping ominousness of an alley confrontation, Costello zeros in: “They talked to the sister, the father and the mother/With a microphone in one hand and a chequebook in the other/And the camera noses in to the tears on her face/The tears on her face/The tears on her face.” Sung with on-the-one rhythmic sense by Costello, the repetition of that one phrase packs a bigger emotional oomph than many of his tangled, tortured lyrics. In a single image, Costello captures both the crassness of the press — and, more significantly, the agony of a sorrow-filled parent. The impact is stunning.

Punch the Clock won’t alter anyone’s opinion of Elvis Costello, because it doesn’t represent much of a change for him. He remains the most consistently interesting songwriter in rock & roll, and there is evidence that a new, more emotionally generous sensibility may soon be present in his work. “I know I’ve got my faults, and among them I can’t control my tongue,” he offers in “Mouth Almighty,” and it’s true on this LP. As a holding pattern with a few flourishes here and there, Punch the Clock is a satisfying, if unstartling, opus.

mp3 : Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Let Them All Talk
mp3 : Elvis Costello & The Attractions – T.K.O. (Boxing Day)
mp3 : Elvis Costello & The Attractions – The Invisible Man
mp3 : Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Shipbuilding

JC adds :  26 December is known as Boxing Day here in the UK, which is why this review appears today.  It’s a decent enough summary of a decent enough album, one which isn’t the best of Elvis C, but has stood the test of time, thanks in part to the skill of the uber-producers.


Album : Ultimate Kylie by Kylie Minogue
Review : Pop Matters, 21 March 2005
Author : Hunter Felt

In the glorious dawning days of Napster, one of the first songs I ever illegally downloaded was “I Should Be So Lucky” by Kylie Minogue. Mind you, this was before “Can’t Get You out of My Head” summoned both the teenyboppers and the hipsters to the dance floor, this was the period when Kylie Minogue was a one-hit wonder, a disposable soap opera actress turned dance-pop monger. “I Should Be So Lucky”, an almost frightfully perky tale of Romantic frustration, contains practically every ’80s dance music cliché: from the numerous orchestra hits to the uncomfortably thin sounding drum machine. Despite these egregious sins, courtesy of in-retrospect-regrettable-hits making machine Stock, Aitken, & Waterman, something about Kylie’s innocent yet forceful vocals and the sheer catchiness of the song itself rose above its long dated components, and I was hooked. So the song became a beloved secret, and I never bothered to try to tune my friends in on “I Should Be So Lucky”, or, crazier yet, proclaim that this “has-been” would be a critical and commercial darling in a few years time.

Ultimate Kylie is a two-disc summary evenly split between two distinct periods in Kylie’s career. The first part features Kylie Minogue acting as Stock, Aitken, & Waterman’s puppet, and features her struggling in finding great pop songs buried in dated production techniques, and shining despite being paired up with unsuitable cover material (“Tears on My Pillow”) or justifiably forgotten performers (such as her former Neighbours co-star Jason Donovan on “Especially for You”). The second disc encapsulates her true solo career, showing her flirt with practically every style of dance music of the last two decades without ever sounding out of place. Kylie, who has reached one-name only status in Europe, is not a great singer, she wouldn’t even give Madonna a run for the money, but she has a trait that allows her to adapt to any possible musical shift that is remarkable for any performer, let alone one for a soap opera actress who never expected to be in the music industry.

The first disc, although clearly the lesser half of the album artistically, is, never-the-less, a fascinating collection that shows Kylie rising above the ghetto of ’80s dance-pop idols. Whereas artists such as David Bowie and Madonna are known for shifting their musical personality to reflect their changing personalities or changing musical landscapes, Kylie never even evolved a musical personality. She is something of a cipher, a Zelig figure who services her musical surroundings rather than having the music support her persona. This is what makes the first disc of The Ultimate Kylie surprisingly great. They are something of a punchline now, heck they were even at the time, but Stock, Aitken, & Waterman could write a decent song every now again to go along with their massive hooks, and, from the sound of it, they gave Kylie some of their best material knowing that she would devote all of her energy towards the songs themselves. There are pure pop moments, such as “I Should Be So Lucky” and the gorgeous “Je Ne Sais Pas Pourquoi”, almost soulful rave-ups such as “Better the Devil You Know”, and even a little funk on tracks like “Shocked”. I suppose many would scoff at the decidedly dated material, but the first disc is a collection of just about everything that was good about ’80s dance-pop with only hints about what makes that genre unbearable today. Even “The Loco-Motion” is not as bad as people imagine.

Plus, the first disc hints at the “Kylie unleashed” that dominates the second disc. Opening with a new track, the retro-futuristic “I Believe in You”, co-written with Jake Shears of the Scissor Sisters (she is a gay icon, don’t you know), the second disc explores the nuances of modern dance music. “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” and “Love at First Sight” are two of the best songs of the last five years, they both provide a perfect synthesis of Kylie’s pop princess appeal and her admirable exploration of experimental electronic music. The bare-bones rhythms of “Can’t Get You out of My Head” may be dulled through overexposure, but it still manages to hypnotize as Kylie’s vocals evolve from fembot coldness to ethereal beauty. “Love at First Sight” might even be better, a poppier, and even stranger song. Kylie had the audacity to basically rewrite Daft Punk’s immortal “Digital Love” and somehow may have even made it even more perfect than it already was. These songs are super-dense sound collages full of tiny strange little details that reward headphone listening (check out the subliminal bongos on the chorus to “Love at First Sight”) while encouraging, perhaps demanding, dancing.

Although nothing else on the album reaches the heights of these two songs, maybe nothing could, the music remains complex and fascinating throughout. Perhaps fed-up with the relatively formulaic Stock, Aitken, & Waterman sound, her later material finds her exploring any genre or style that she found interesting, mixing styles with reckless abandon. The second disc pays no heed to chronological order, but this would not help the material which would be scattershot and baffling regardless. Kylie does not evolve, really, she just seems to skip from style to style following her own whims. One of the more recent songs, “Slow”, is a tempo-changing, brain-warping example of what happens when Intelligent Dance Music meets actual Dance Music. It of course is followed by “On a Night Like This”, a track that is meant to go right to number one on the Billboard Club Tracks list and while being completely ignored by the general public.

This is both Kylie’s blessing and curse: She can be anything, which sort of makes her nothing. Luckily, whenever the songs are right, Kylie hits the right notes to make standard dance-floor jams into entrancing pop songs. It doesn’t matter if she dueting with vapid pop mannequins (the collection-nadir “Kids” with Robbie Williams) or with one of the more morbid singer-songwriters alive (the out-of-place, but still chilling, “Where the Wild Roses Grow” with Nick Cave), Kylie will stand out. In doesn’t matter if Kylie is trying to be Bjork (“Confide in Me”), or a singer-songwriter with trip-hop beats (“Put Yourself in My Place”), Kylie will come off as believable. Nearly all of the tracks work, which results in a surprisingly varied collection of great dance music.

It hardly matters that Kylie Minogue is not a great performer or that her music is close to faceless. What matters is that she has had enough great dance songs over her long career to make all but Madonna envious. Ultimate Kylie, which seems condensed even at its double-disc length, is one of the best collections of dance music available, even while including her ’80s pop hits. It is enough to get her MP3s permanently out of my “guilty pleasures” bin.

mp3 : Kylie Minogue – Hand On Your Heart
mp3 : Kylie Minogue – Better The Devil You Know
mp3 : Kylie Minogue – Love At First Sight
mp3 : Kylie Minogue – Confide In Me

JC adds :  Embrace the frivolous.  Ultimate Kylie is top stuff (mostly!).  Merry Xmas Everybody.